Edge of 17(03): Microsoft’s Web Browser is Still Lacking

Posted on April 17, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 100 Comments

Edge of 17(03): Microsoft's Web Browser is Still Lacking

It’s become a regular refrain: Microsoft releases a new version of Windows 10 that includes many improvements to Edge. But despite these improvements, I still can’t use this browser.

I find this frustrating. I also find it vaguely emblematic of the whole Creators Update experience: While we should give Microsoft some credit for adding lots of new features, I find myself also questioning the feature choices they’ve made. Especially when so many fundamental features are still missing in action.

But the Creators Update is heading out into thew world and Microsoft Edge has been on my mind a lot lately. As you may have noticed, I’ve published numerous Windows 10 Tips related to Microsoft Edge over the past few weeks. This is because I’ve been updating the Microsoft Edge chapter in the Windows 10 Field Guide, and, as noted, the browser really did receive many functional updates as part of the Creators Update.

Some of these updates are useful, for sure. The new tab management capabilities are interesting, its ability to import more data from Chrome and other browsers will make switching easier, and the excellent reading experience has now been expanded to PDF and EPUB files. These changes are so sweeping—or the Creators Update is so lacking, your choice—that I described the improvements to Microsoft Edge as the single biggest change, collectively, in the Creators Update.

And yet. As is has always been the case, I (re)evaluate Microsoft Edge. And I find it lacking. In fact, if you go back to last summer, to the eve of the Anniversary Update, you will see that I similarly found the improvements to Edge in that release to be impressive. But still lacking.

Here in the first half of 2017, my complaints remain basically the same. And for all the things I do like about Edge—the text rendering on the high DPI displays that are common today, the built-in Reading View, the pleasant and modern user experience, the battery life advantages, and so on—simply can’t overcome this browser’s very real disadvantages.

To be fair, some of these complaints are very specific and may not be an issue for you. Workflow is what it is, and while I try to change how I do things from time-to-time, I’m as flawed as anyone else and expect things to work the way I prefer.

Some complaints may seem minor as well. But I believe that any technology transition—switching from Mac to Surface, perhaps, or from Android to iPhone—is a process that is more often undermined by many small things than by one big thing. Death by a thousand cuts, in other words.

So let me step through those complaints, one by one.

Web apps. With Chrome, you can pin web apps to the Windows 10 taskbar, and I use some—like Google Inbox and Google Calendar—in this fashion every day. Microsoft has promised to support modern web apps and to let them integrate with Windows 10 in the future. But that doesn’t work today at all.

Create desktop shortcuts. With Chrome and other web browsers, you can drag a site from the address bar to the Windows 10 desktop, creating a shortcut. Edge does not support this, still. But if you do create a shortcut from Chrome, you can open it with Edge. Because Microsoft, I guess.

General performance. Overall, Edge works more leisurely than Chrome, the web browser I prefer and use daily (both on PC and mobile). One example. When I right-click on something in Chrome, a feature-rich pop-up menu appears instantly. But when I do so in Edge, a small and mostly useless UWP-type menu appears slowly, and for some reason does so with an animation that adds to the feeling of slowness.

Favorites bar. I store my bookmarks in the Chrome Bookmarks bar, or what Edge calls the Favorites bar. Chrome gives me a lot of control over how this looks and works, and each item (bookmark or folder) can appear as an icon or as an icon with a label. In Edge, you can only choose between icons and icons with text, globally.

Mobile sync. Because Microsoft Edge only works in Windows 10, its incompatible with the Android phones and iPhones that almost 100 percent of the world uses. And that is a non-starter: When I sign-in to Chrome on my iPhone or Android handsets, all of my bookmarks, settings, and saved passwords come along for the ride. Edge can’t do this.

Extensions. Microsoft seems to have done a decent job adding Extensions to Edge. But the number of extensions is still lackluster and hasn’t grown in any meaningful way in the past year. And there are many extensions I rely on that are just not available in Edge, including one that can stop videos from auto-starting when you load a page.

Full-screen. Edge is the only browser on earth that doesn’t provide a full-screen page display mode in Windows (F11). This is inexcusable, especially when you consider that Windows 10 is, itself, designed to work in a touch-friendly tablet mode and that all other built-in apps do support a full-screen display. With Edge, you’re always stuck with the browser chrome. So much for getting out of the way. (Update: You can type SHIFT + WINKEY + ENTER to toggle a true full-screen display with Edge. It’s non-standard and non-discoverable, but it works. –Paul)

Developer. Maybe I just haven’t figured this out, but Chrome offers an incredible F12 Developer experience that includes a Sources view that helps me pull images and other content out of websites. (I use this to grab full-sized images from Microsoft sites, for example.) Edge does provide its own F12 Developer Tools functionality, of course. But I can’t figure out how to use it for this need.

Notifications. To be fair, this is sort of tied to the web apps note above, or soon will be. But websites and web apps are increasingly using native app-like notifications to keep users up-to-date. Chrome supports this functionality fully. But only a tiny subset of the web can provide notifications to Edge. And they won’t work at all unless the site is open in a tab at the time. Sorry, but that’s worse than useless.

You may not agree with all of that. But come on, that’s a long list. And for the silliness that Microsoft has added to Edge in the Creators Update—an e-books store? Seriously?—that it cannot address these fundamental issues is, to me, frustrating. And it means that I simply cannot use this browser, still. No matter how much I want to.


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